Session one: Poverty Eradication: Empowerment of Women as an Essential Ingredient
Tokyo, 3 September 2003
I would like to thank Chairman Kit Kitatani and NPO2050 for their kind invitation to participate in this high level symposium on the theme of South-to-South Collaboration: Poverty and HIV/AIDS. It gives me great honour to participate at this symposium for the third time and to address you today, particularly on the subject of empowerment of women, which is an issue close to my heart and which is more relevant today than ever before. This is also among the highest priorities of the United Nations.My presentation will focus on four points. First of all, I will touch upon the issue of poverty eradication, especially since the adoption of the Millennium Declaration in 2000 and subsequent identification of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). I will also present some challenges and obstacles to poverty eradication especially for the most vulnerable groups of countries. Secondly, I will look at the concept of women's empowerment and what it means. Thirdly, I will examine the mainstreaming of gender issues within the development process especially in the context of the Beijing Platform for Action decided in 1995 as well as identify some challenges in this regard. Finally, I will explore how the empowerment of women is an essential ingredient to poverty eradication.
I. Poverty Eradication
The Millennium Development Goals provide a shared vision of a much improved world by 2015, where extreme poverty is cut in half, child mortality is greatly reduced, gender disparities in primary and secondary education are eliminated, women are more empowered, and health and environment indicators improve within a global partnership for development. Progress toward achieving the MDGs has been mixed: the goals for eradicating extreme poverty and providing access to safe water are likely to be met, at least at the global level. However, based on current rates of progress, it may be more difficult to meet many of the other goals by 2015, such as achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and reducing child mortality.
The achievement of the MDGs is even more challenging for the most vulnerable group of countries, the 49 Least Developed Countries. Many obstacles to poverty eradication arise from the political, economic and social conditions that exist within these countries.
Poverty also has a gender dimension. In most countries, the poorest of the poor tend to be households headed by women. Even within the family unit, the poverties of money, access and power vary based on gender, with women and female children suffering more than their male counterparts. Thus to meaningfully measure poverty, disaggregated data and information are often needed, which in many countries do not exist.
II. Empowerment of Women: What it means
The World Bank has defined empowerment as the process of increasing the capacity of individuals or groups to make effective choices and to transform those choices into desired actions and outcomes. Central to this process are actions, which both build the individual and collective assets of the poor, and improve the efficiency and fairness of the organizational and institutional context which govern the use of these assets.
According to Gita Sen, empowerment is, first and foremost, about power; changing power relations in favour of those who previously exercised little power over their own lives. Batliwala (1993) defines power as having two central aspects -- control over resources (physical, human, intellectual, financial, and the self), and control over ideology (beliefs, values and attitudes). If power means control, then empowerment is the process of gaining control. A change in access to external resources without a change in consciousness can leave people without the resilience, motivation and awareness to retain and/or build on that control, leaving space open for others to wrest control. To be sustainable the empowerment process must alter both people's self-perception and their control over their lives and their material environments.
Gita Sen further argues that there are both intrinsic and instrumental reasons for believing that empowerment is (or ought to be) an essential element in strategies, policies, and programmes that seek to address poverty. Although most poverty measures are based on the income or consumption expenditure per capita of individual households, poverty itself is not inherently a purely "individual" phenomenon, i.e., the probability of being poor is not randomly distributed across the population. There are also good instrumental reasons for using an empowerment approach to address poverty. Many traditional anti-poverty programmes suffer from problems of waste, leakages and inefficiency. One reason for this is the powerlessness of the intended beneficiaries who are unable to challenge the functionaries of the programmes.
As stated in the Report of the Fourth World Conference on Women: "The empowerment and autonomy of women and the improvement of women's social, economic and political status is essential for the achievement of both transparent and accountable government and administration and sustainable development in all areas of life".
According to UNIFEM, women's economic security and rights means more than helping women find jobs. It means improving the power relationships in a woman's home, in her community and in the marketplace so that she can take advantage of growing opportunities. It means ensuring that women have equal access with men to the increasing range of technological options for production and are not excluded from the latest technological advances. It means changing policies and legislation to ensure that women can exercise their rights and benefit from economic development. Ultimately, it means helping women lift themselves and their families out of poverty.
III. Mainstreaming of gender issues
The Beijing Platform for Action, adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in September 1995, set gender equality as a goal with mainstreaming as the strategy. Empowerment would require opening of economic opportunities, right and access to factors of production, education and healthcare, training and employment and markets.
Gender issues are highly relevant to achieving all the MDGs, be it protecting the environment, achieving sustainable development or enabling universal access to health care. Because the MDGs are mutually reinforcing, progress towards one goal affects progress towards the others. Success in many of the goals will have positive impacts on gender equality, just as progress toward gender equality will help further other goals.
The third of the Millennium Development Goals (to promote gender equality and empower women) addresses gender equality specifically. Although the target of the MDG on gender equality appears to be associated mainly with eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education, the road map includes three additional indicators of gender equality: literacy rates, the share of women working in non-agriculture jobs, and the proportion of seats women hold in national parliaments. The inclusion of these indicators suggests that while achieving equal access to education is an important step towards gender equality, it is by no means sufficient. Even as gender disparities in education are reduced, other gender differences tend to persist - in labour market opportunities, legal rights, the ability to participate in public life and decision- making and in getting recognition in male-dominated societies. Empowerment of women and equality between women and men are prerequisites for achieving political, social, economic, cultural and environmental security among all peoples.
With further regard to gender mainstreaming, there is a serious concern that the international community, in its decision-making process, particularly those relating to financing for development, ultimately does not address the economic realities of women's lives. UNIFEM and Women's Environment and Development Organisation (WEDO) have jointly expressed that although it is generally accepted that women make up the majority of the world's poor, the government consensus reached in Monterrey is almost devoid of gender analysis and reflects only a limited commitment to gender equality. Moreover, they continued, the Monterrey document indicates little recognition of women's particular position within the labour market - concentrated in the informal sector, rural agricultural sector and low wage positions in the formal labour market - and the differential and negative impact of global economic policies on these sectors. Furthermore, it was neither acknowledged that women bear the brunt of the negative aspects of globalisation in terms of additional domestic and community responsibilities as social services are privatised, cutback or eliminated. UNIFEM and WEDO equally expressed that the link between gender and other forms of equity and macro-economics is ignored in the Monterrey Consensus. Under economic globalisation, the multiple roles of women at home, in communities and in the paid work force, have led to marginalisation, exploitation and ultimately the feminisation of poverty. Dealing with this kind of structural discrimination requires a structural solution.
The General Arab Women Federation has correctly observed that globalisation processes, whether to cohabitate or confront its consequences, lead to marginalize women through the division of labour markets, and increasing serious disparities in the living, health and education standards which create situations for poverty and marginality, that will be passed on among generations in a continuous cycle.
Promoting gender equality in the work force and empowering women are important contributors to moving people out of poverty. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that over the period 1990-2000, women's share in paid employment in the non-agricultural sector increased in almost all countries in its sample. In countries with economies in transition, the share averaged about 50 per cent in 2000; in developing countries in Asia and the Pacific, the share averaged 40 per cent; and in Latin America and the Caribbean, the share ranged from 35 to almost 50 per cent. In Africa, on the other hand, women's share is highly variable and ranges from a low of 11 per cent in Chad to about 40 per cent in Botswana.
Although net enrolment ratios for primary education have improved in the developing countries, progress in individual countries remains uneven. In particular, countries in sub-Saharan Africa still lag behind other developing countries. Gender disparity in enrolment in education has improved, but girls in developing countries are still at a disadvantage at both the primary and secondary levels. The task of ensuring universal primary education and eliminating gender disparity remains an important challenge for many developing countries.
In many parts of the world young adults are especially vulnerable, and a third of those living with HIV/AIDS are aged 15-24. In sub-Saharan Africa, adolescent girls are at particularly high risk of HIV infection: more than two thirds of the newly infected 15 to 19 year olds are female, and over 8 per cent of young women are currently living with HIV/AIDS, compared with around 4 per cent for young men.
Gender inequality, which remains pervasive worldwide, tends to lower the productivity of labour and the efficiency of labour allocation in households and the economy, intensifying the unequal distribution of resources. It also contributes to the non-monetary aspects of poverty - lack of security, opportunity and empowerment - that lower the quality of life for both men and women. While women and girls bear the largest and most direct costs of these inequalities, the costs cut broadly across society, ultimately hindering development and poverty reduction.
IV. Empowerment of women as an essential ingredient to poverty eradication
It is an indisputable fact that a gender equality perspective will facilitate attaining the poverty goal of reducing by half the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by 2015-from 29 percent to 14.5 percent of all people in low and middle income countries. Indeed, gender equality is important not only as a goal in itself, but also as a path towards achieving the other goals.
The poverty goal also calls for halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger. The definition of poverty has traditionally been based on per capita income. Focusing solely on this indicator, global poverty at present encompasses more than a billion people who live on less than a dollar a day, or, more broadly, over 2.5 billion who live on less than $2 a day. But the definition of poverty has been broadened to encompass other dimensions, such as lack of empowerment, opportunity, capacity and security. Meeting the poverty goal will therefore require a multi-dimensional approach. Because many aspects of gender inequality influence the different dimensions of poverty, interventions that promote gender equality are critical in the design of strategies and actions to meet the poverty goal.
According to a recent World Bank publication, by raising the productivity of labour and improving the efficiency of labour allocation, gender equality has a direct impact on economic growth and the reduction of income poverty; it also increases economic opportunities and empowers women. Gender equality's importance for economic growth makes it critical in accelerating progress towards achieving the income poverty target.
Many variables are critical for poverty reduction, both on the investment climate side and on the empowerment side. However, one of the key conclusions of recent research is that, other things being equal, gender inequality retards both economic growth and poverty reduction.
The report of the World Bank found that educated, healthy women are more able to engage in productive activities, find formal sector employment, earn higher incomes and enjoy greater returns to schooling than are uneducated women who suffer from poor nutrition and health, or are victims of domestic violence. Moreover, educated women give greater emphasis to schooling their own children, thereby improving the productivity of the next generation. For example, children of literate mothers in India spend two more hours per day studying than do the children of illiterate mothers.
Many societies have institutions and practices that limit women's access to productive assets and resources such as land, financial services and employment in the formal sector. Land titling is especially problematic. Women rarely have title to land, even when they are its primary users, and are thus often unable to use land as collateral for credit. Evidence from several African countries suggests that female farmers are as efficient as male farmers, but are less productive because they have less access to productive inputs and human capital.
Moreover, in many settings, including the middle income countries of Eastern, Central and Southern Europe, women work significantly more hours per day than men. In many low income countries, they spend long hours collecting fuel and water. Poverty limits their ability to engage in income generating activities and to participate in community affairs. Because the gender-based division of labour extends to children, women's time poverty means that girls are often kept out of school to help with household work.
Not only does gender inequality exacerbate poverty; poverty also exacerbates inequality between males and females. Inequalities between girls and boys in access to schooling or health care are more acute among the poor than among those with higher incomes. Whether measured in terms of command over productive resources, or in terms of power to influence the political process, poor men tend to have less influence in the community than non-poor men, and poor women generally have the least influence. These disparities disadvantage women and girls and limit their capacity to participate in and benefit from development.
According to a recent research report of the University of Western Cape in South Africa, most formal institutions in developing countries are unable to penetrate rural areas, their services and conditions not being appropriate and cost effective to most of the rural poor. Therefore, informal financial institutions continue to play an important role in catering for the financial needs of the poor.
This optimism about the implicit empowerment potential of credit and savings pervades most donor statements on micro-finance. Donors and NGOs tend to expand their micro-finance activities generally rather than support more explicitly empowerment-focussed interventions for women. At the same time, micro-finance is being promoted as a key poverty eradication strategy to enable poor women and men to cope with the adverse economic and social impacts of structural adjustment policies and globalisation micro-finance programmes are currently being promoted as a key strategy for addressing both poverty reduction and women's empowerment. Access to credit will empower women by enabling them to set up or expand their micro-enterprises. More precisely, it highlights the fact that financial service provision may lead to: higher income levels and greater economic independence; access to networks and markets giving wider experience of the world outside the home; access to information and possibilities for development of other social and political roles; increased participation in household decisions about expenditure and other issues and more general improvements in attitudes to women's role in the household and community.
An example of women empowerment through micro-credit is that of the programmes of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. As of 1994, the Grameen Bank had loaned more than US$1 billion to 2.02 million members, 94% of whom were women. Today, its 1,046 rural branches serve more than half of the villages in the country. Besides providing credit to those who lack physical collateral, the Bank's programs are designed to achieve social goals such as raising living standards and improving women's status in society.
As I have mentioned before, women's empowerment needs to be an integral part of policies. Empowerment can be assumed to be an important outcome of micro-finance programmes. Indeed, micro-credit policies have resulted in many developing countries to the empowerment of women in all fields, be it political, social or economic. Women's access to savings and credit gives them a greater economic role in decision-making through their decision about savings and credit. When women control decisions regarding credit and savings, they will optimise their own and the household's welfare. The investment in women's economic activities will improve employment opportunities for women and thus have a 'trickle down and out' effect.
With regards to security, the NGO working group on Women, International Peace and Security has pointed out that women must be included in any peace-building to ensure peace and lasting security. In 2000, the United Nations Security Council passed an historic resolution on women, peace and security (Res. 1325, 31 October 2000) that aimed to protect women in times of war while ensuring their participation in peace talks. For the first time, the Security Council was recognizing the contribution women could make to peace-building during and after times of crisis and conflict.
The NGO working group on Women, International Peace and Security further stressed that refugee women need to be represented at the peace table in order to ensure that the voices of ordinary people stricken by war are heard by politicians, generals and diplomats, but they also need mechanisms like the Security Council resolutions to protect them from violence and abuse.
Millions of women refugees play an essential role in sustaining communities during and after conflict. They work quietly for peace and reconciliation, and take responsibility for the safety of their children. Their voices deserve to be heard.
To conclude, I would like to stress that obstacles to poverty eradication can be overcome by enhancing access to education, especially for girls; capacity-building; fostering civil society institutions; empowering communities, especially women; promoting micro-credit; adapting strategies to specific urban and rural conditions; increasing the effectiveness of aid, especially by further limiting the practice of tying procurement to donor country suppliers; and protecting the environment.
Experience in developing societies over the past decades has shown that economic opportunity, education and reproductive health services are essential factors in empowering women. Progress in these areas has brought about revolutionary transformations in developing societies. Women, when empowered, have contributed to substantial improvement in the quality of life in the families, generated employment and created wealth. The economic and social impact of such empowerment have been tremendous slowing down population growth, spurring economic prosperity and making development sustainable by reducing pressure on environment. As a cake will not rise without flour, neither will poverty be eradicated without the empowerment of women.
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